Picture this: A twenty-year old university student from the suburbs of Houston, Texas gets the opportunity of a lifetime to intern abroad in the vibrant city of London. Four whole months of immersing myself in the British culture, filling my passport with stamps from European cities I’ve only ever visited in my dreams during weekends getaways, shopping ‘till I drop on Regent Street, and eating more scones than I care to mention during afternoon tea – it all sounds pretty glamorous, right? Not so fast.
Having the chance to live in London comes with many perks, but first and foremost, I am here to intern. The main focus of my trip is to gain valuable work experience that I will be able to put to use in the future – I am not here to meet Prince Harry (but it could happen, right?!), or to have a four month vacation. As a Human Resources major, I was beyond excited to hear that I would be interning for a hospitality consultancy that works with restaurants all throughout London.
Here’s the catch: the company is Italian owned and operated. As an Indian American coming from the southern region of the U.S., it’s safe to say that I had a bit of a culture shock during my first few weeks at work. My days are filled with my managers and colleagues rapidly speaking away to each other in Italian, and obviously, I don’t understand a single word unless it’s “pizza”, “pasta”, or “espresso”. Being the only one in the office who was born and raised speaking English has had its challenges – especially at the very beginning. Moving across the ocean and uprooting my entire life has been hard enough, why not make it a little bit harder and throw a language barrier into the mix?
Early on, I had two choices. The first option was to get frustrated, give up, and gain nothing. The second choice was to try and understand the situation from management’s point of view. Here they are, welcoming a foreigner into their space while having to make an extra effort to speak English more routinely.
The key to adjusting to a new environment is to understand that it simply takes time. So far, I have learned that no matter your background, everyone is looking for respect and understanding in the office. A huge benefit of working with people who are so different than I am, is the knowledge that I have gained along the way. Many Italian stereotypes I held before have now been broken, and being exposed to unique, cultural perspectives and different point of views has helped me to push myself, and think outside of the box. My time here so far has shown me how important it is to surround yourself with people who can teach you something new, and I consider myself very lucky to not only learn more about the Italian and British cultures, but to learn more about diverse people as well.
So here I am: one month down, three left to go. In the one month that I have had in London so far, I am absolutely amazed by how far my mind-set has expanded. I have grown so much professionally as well as personally, and I hope that I am able to have the same kind of impact on the people around me.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I have recently learned that “ciao” means both hello and goodbye in Italian.